New Delhi: Hermes has a store there, its third in India; Starbucks announced it will open its first outlet there; and the buzz in Mumbai’s luxury marketing circles is that Christian Louboutin (think red-lacquered shoe soles) will open its store in the area, all of which could explain why South Mumbai’s Horniman Circle is suddenly in the news.
Named after Benjamin G. Horniman, an Englishman who edited the Bombay Chronicle in the early 1900s, and who was a keen supporter of the Indian nationalist movement (so much so that the British temporarily exiled him from India in 1919), the circle is actually a crescent of stately buildings, many dating back to the second half of the 1800s when they were constructed. The circle, then called Mumbai Greens, was renamed in his honour after India's independece.
The buildings, still well-preserved, now house some offices and old restaurants, but the architecture, described as “an ideal space for high end retail development in the city” by architect Arjun Malik, principal architect, at Mumbai based Malik Architecture, the history, and, most importantly, its proximity to well-heeled South Mumbai have made it a draw for retailers.
Neelesh Hundekari, principal at consulting firm AT Kearney said it is easy to see why the area is attracting premium and luxury brands: “South Mumbai as a catchment area has a significant number of high net worth individuals so it makes sense for brands to be there.” According to Hundekari, an expert in luxury who brings out an annual luxury report in India, said the areas around the Taj hotel in Mumbai, Ballard Estate, Fort, have potential to be luxury hubs owing to heritage buildings.
Retailers seem to think so too.
“In the past few months we’ve seen a sufficient amount of interest in Horniman circle from brands that are in the same league as the French luxury brand Hermes. From a retail perspective it works since there are plenty of offices in the vicinity”, said Pankaj Renjhen, managing director, retail services, at the Indian unit of real estate consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).
About 100 m from Horniman Circle is the famous Kala Ghoda area known for the annual arts festival. At least two fashion labels—Kitsch and Sabyasachi—are already present there. Kitsch, run by Priya Sachdev houses high-end fashion brands including Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Lanvin and Alberta Ferretti.
Indeed, even Cartier and Louis Vuitton have expressed some interest in the area, said a senior executive at a real estate company who did not wish to be identified. Mint could not independently confirm if these brands are interested in setting up shops in Horniman Circle and Kala Ghoda. Reena Wadhwa, who has brought Gucci to India through a joint venture, agrees that Horniman Circle holds promise. “If the infrastructure and parking were to come up, it has the potential to be the next best option to New Delhi’s Emporio mall”.
Currently Gucci has four stores in india, including one in Mumbai’s Palladium mall. Emporio is India’s first mall for luxury brands.
Luxury retailers, though, have always preferred so-called high-streets, and bemoaned their absence in India. “Avenue Montaigne in Paris or Sloane Street in London are tightly controlled areas, the cities work in tandem with brands to ensure the heritage of the place is maintained, but in India we clearly lack that”, explains Tikka Shatrujit Singh, adviser to the chairman of Louis Vuitton.
And that, says Hundekari, is where Horniman Circle scores.
“Globally, this is what high streets are made up of. There is a main city centre with heritage buildings where people can stroll around.” Seconds, Malik, “for luxury brands in most European markets, flagship stores are typically located in the old downtown area of the city”. According to him, Hermes has raised the eminence of the area, “it worked on the facade of the building and really lifted the quality of the space”. India does have its share of these but most, like New Delhi’s famed Connaught Place area are plagued by infrastructural issues and, as Singh, says “constant construction”. India will take some time to “get there” in terms of high-streets, he adds.
Meanwhile, there are malls, and in the absence of any other option, retailers flock to them.
“There are queries from Italian and French brands interested to enter the mall, but we don’t have the space”, Dinaz Madhukar, vice-president of DLF Emporio, told Mint in an earlier interview.
Indeed, “quality property at the right location and the right price remains a big challenge in India” said Renjhen of Jones Lang LaSalle.
Malls are also good for brands that are up there, but not really marquee.
Shital Mehta, chief operating officer (international brands and retail), Madura Fashion and Lifestyle said high-streets may work only for established luxury brands with the ability to draw shoppers, “Unless you are a marquee brand in a heritage building, you may not attract consumers. For instance, Hermes is super luxury..., so it’s easy for the brand to establish a presence in such a space. Not everyone can”. A Hermes spokesperson was not available for comment.
Even Horniman Circle will take time to become a high-street in the true sense of the term, say retailers. “The area is under-developed for luxury, it is not controlled, is chaotic and lacks infrastructure,” says Shatrujit Tikka Singh. And India’s (and Mumbai’s) muggy tropical weather may just mean that high streets won’t work here, says Wadhwa.
India’s luxury market is seeing steady growth, according to the latest report released by Euromonitor International in October, the value of luxury goods sold in India was $2.18 billion (around Rs.11,990 crore) in 2011 India, the number will touch $7 billion in value by 2017.